YOP004: Smiley Poswolsky – How To Show Up For Others In The World


Adam Smiley Poswolsky is the author of The Quarter-Life Breakthrough, which is an Amazon bestseller and the #1 Top Rated Job Hunting book on Amazon.

He has inspired professionals and entrepreneurs to find fulfilling work as director of community engagement for the Hive Global Leaders Program, and previously as director at The Bold Academy. Smiley is a mentor for the StartingBloc Institute for Social Innovation, and a facilitator for General Assembly and The Passion Co.

Smiley has spoken about finding meaningful work at Fortune 500 companies, international conferences and leadership development programs, universities and graduate schools.

Smiley writes stories about purpose-driven millennials who are making a positive impact in their communities. His writing has been published in The Washington Post, Forbes, Fast Company, Thought Catalog, and GOOD, among others. He previously worked as the special assistant to the director of global operations at the U.S. Peace Corps.

He is a proud graduate of Wesleyan University, and can usually be found dancing in San Francisco, California.

Show Notes:

The Quarter-Life Breakthrough on Amazon


Smiley on Twitter @whatsupsmiley

NPR Morning Edition

Starting Bloc

The Bold Academy

Camp Grounded



Show +

Zephan: Hey Everyone, Zephan Blaxberg here from the year of purpose Podcast and today I have an awesome guest with me. His name is Adam Smiley Poswolsky and he has actually written this book ‘The Quarter- Life Break Through”. It was an amazing and transformative book in my life and actually led me to create this idea of ‘The Year of Purpose”. So Smiley, how’s it going?

Adam: It’s going great. Hello from San Francisco.

Zephan: Awesome, thanks for calling in and taking a little time out of your day. Let’s just jump right in we’ll get into the book in a second. I just wanna talk about where your story began. You told little bit in the book about how you were living and working in DC. So just tell me a little bit about that and what you were doing.

Adam:             Yea so about 3 years ago now, I was 28 living in Washington DC. I had just worked on the Obama campaign as a Fuel Organizer and then I wanted to work for the Administration so I went to DC. I was really excited getting a job working for the Administration and I got this great job working on Government, working primarily for Senior Officials. I was the Special Assistant to the Director of Operations at the Peace Corps; which is a wonderful agency. Peace Corps sends Americans abroad to work for two years to work in the developing the world as Volunteers but I was working in Headquarters and I had a really good job, I was making good money, I had a good salary, I had benefits but I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t fulfilled. I was waking up everyday knowing that I had a good job but knowing that it wasn’t the right job for me. This is a difficult place to be in as I’m sure a lot of folks out there especially 20 somethings and 30 somethings’ have been in before. When you have a job that on paper looks good to your friends and your parents and the people you meet at happy hour but internally when you wake up in the morning you know something’s not right. And how did I know something wasn’t right? Well every time my alarm went off in the morning I’d have that tingling sensation, that pain that goes up your stomach, that pain that goes up and down your back, when you brush your teeth, when you get dressed, when you put on your tie in the morning, when you rode the bus down to work, it was really difficult for me.

This led to sleep problems, depression and really being in a state of crisis and state of feeling really stuck so that’s kind of where my story begins and I wrote a book about the transformation that happened and how I kind of got unstuck and I was able to say ‘Ok it’s ok even if you have a good job to take a leap, to do something new, to experiment and now 3 years later I’m a lot happier and I’m doing things I really care about.

Zephan: That’s awesome. I know that you mention in your book, there is like a specific title that you had for that pain and feeling, called, was it the ‘Morning Edition’ was what you called it?

Adam: Yea, I listen to NPR in the morning when I wake up. It kind of triggered my day which I’m sure a lot of people in Dc do. MPR Morning edition. Every time my alarm would go off for like 6:45 in the morning and morning edition would come on thereafter. I’d feel that pain and that I had refer to and it was like that morning edition because it was like that trigger of like “ok, wake up, oh man this sucks”

Zephan:            I absolutely know where that comes from. I had the same thing going on pretty much when I was getting ready to quit my job at Apple too, I is in the same boat. Do you remember the specific day where everything just kind of connects and you say ‘this is it’ this is the last day?

Adam: Yea. So you know I was at Peace Corps for over two years and Peace Corps is a wonderful organization, it’s a great place to work and I had wonderful colleges. But I knew it wasn’t right so a couple friends told me about a program called Starting Block, which is a Starting Block Institute for Organizations together 20 something’s that are interested in creating social change. Teachers, Non-educators, Nonprofit folks, Enterprise business, sustainable business folks, people artist writers. People that just want to make difference in the world. So I’m at this program which was in LA. It was kind of beautiful and in DC in February it was like snowing and freezing and in LA in February the palm trees are there, people are surfing in Santa Monica. I was kind of sitting on this rooftop bar with my friend Evan and Evan asked me a very simple question. I was telling him about feeling unhappy in work and wanted to something else being scared of quitting my job not knowing how I was gonna make money. We’re sipping a beer on the roof and he goes “Smiley why would you be doing anything less than reaching your full potential in life?

That was a pretty simple question, right? Why would you be doing anything less that reaching you full potential in life? But I hadn’t really ask myself that and once I did, I just sat there like “Why the hell would I be doing anything else than reaching my full potential in life? And that was kind of the moment where I knew I had to make the leap, I knew I had to have a conversation with my boss and I had to quit my job. I knew I had to leave Dc it’s a place that I’ve been wanting to leave for a while I’ve been there four years and that was kind of when it all just clicked and kind of understanding that by not leaving, I was actually not robbing myself of kind of personal fulfillment and happiness which is great, we all deserve to be happy but I was actually robbing the world of my gifts. I was actually robbing others of the difference I could be making because I wasn’t really unleashing my full potential on the world and when you realize that actually it’s quite powerful. I think a lot of artists sometimes go through this. If you don’t make that video, if you don’t write that book, if you don’t create that app, if you don’t go on that trip, if you don’t launch that product, it’s about you, some of it is. Maybe you don’t get that press clip but it’s actually about others they don’t get experience the beauty that you’re going to create in the world and that’s just a shame. And when you can take bigger risks.


Zephan: So it’s a very selfless thing. I feel like its way easier to crush the fears that might come up by thinking what we want to do by realizing that the world is missing out on what we could be doing for the world if we don’t do this that’s a really great way to look at it when it comes to when you’re worried about money, how it’s actually gonna happen. Fear is one of the biggest thing that stops people from being awesome and doing great things in the world and I think just keeping that in mind that so many people could be affected, so many communities could be changed really could help you push forward. Now fast forward a little bit you’re in San Francisco, where did the original motivation come from to actually start writing this guy?

Adam: Yea so I kind of, I was leaving my job but I’ve always love writing but I hadn’t done much personal writing. I was 28. I had done writing in the context of work and I always kept a journal and kind of kept putting my work out there and I had friends that had been telling me to start a Blog for yrs and I was always like ‘Yea, I’ll do it, maybe’. Cause I always like to talk about the world and go on these tangents and I started a Blog write about that time because going through the experience of quitting a job is; I’m sure you know, or anyone knows, it’s really emotional and intense and I found that Blogging about really help me get out my feelings and help me process and help me realize that other people were going through that same thing. So I started Blogging about this and I started meeting other people 20 something’s and 30 something’s, millennial that were going through the same thing and I was working for a program in San Francisco called the Bold Academy; which is a Life Accelerator Program which brings together people that live together for 10 days to work on themselves, to work on their purpose, to meet other entrepreneurs and coaches and mentors, speakers all around this idea of clarifying your purpose and unleashing your gifts to the world and people were like ‘Smiley you got to write a book, you’re doing this writing, you do these Blog posts, they’re really interesting; you should write a book and I was like “ Ha, Yea Whatever, I’m gonna write a book, kind of like doubting even my friends telling me recommending what to do but I was like, ‘you know what? Maybe I should write a book an actually in my commitment; we all write down our commitments after that program in front of everyone on the wall my commitment was write a book this year and I did. So it was kind of other people; that’s one of the things that I talk about in the book is really surrounding yourself with people that can make you take those leaps and hold you accountable to your dreams, right? Cause a lot of times you tell people you’re gonna write a book of you’re gonna do a Podcast, you’re going to launch a new website or you’re going to build this amazing program or you’re gonna alleviate poverty or help teach underprivileged kids and they’re like yea, whatever. But find the people that when u tell them those things are like ‘I got your back’ and if you don’t do that in 6 months or start doing that I’m gonna call you out. I’m gonna call you and I’m gonna check in with you every two weeks or every three weeks, I’m gonna hit you an email, hit you a text message; ‘How’s it going?’ How’s the progress?’ how’s that website coming along?’ How’s the Podcast? Did you write your first draft? Where’s the Table of Contents? Because those are the people to get you through so I was lucky enough to surround myself with people that are gonna hold me accountable and that’s kind of how the book was born. Its along process, the book took about a year.

Zephan: Yea

Adam: From the initial concept and story boarding to writing the book, writing the first draft. I actually scrapped the whole first draft, ended up re-writing the book. I was working with an editor and she was like, you look at a final book and you think of its all perfect but you look back at the early stages and it was actually a mess. The book was actually kind of negative and dark and it wasn’t inspiring and mu editor was like “Smiley we need to do a better job”. So I re-wrote the book. So it takes time and you know that year is an amazing time for creation and learning and growth and I always advise people when they’re launching a project that the 1st time the 1st innovation isn’t gonna be perfect; it’s like a prototype. In the same way that we constantly grow, we constantly learn more about our lives, its journey. It’s the same with the creative process. Even great great Podcasts, great shows, great videos, great books, great organizations they’re first incarnation is now what it looks like today. They’re constantly evolving and if you get too scared about what the final product is you’ll never get there. You just kind of have to dive in and start.

Zephan: Yea, you just have to get started and get moving. I’ve had a ton of projects where I want it to be perfect and you have to kind of take a step back and realize this is never gonna get moving unless you just start doing something. Actually with this podcast, even created a logo and I thought that’s what I was gonna roam with and then two or three weeks later there was another logo idea cause this other graphic for something else came up and it just kind of became the logo. Stuff is constantly moving and as long as you stay with it I think that you’ll be on a really good track for success there. Now you mentioned a little bit about how you weren’t really feeling fulfilled or satisfied with your job in Dc just hit a little bit on what being fulfilled mean to you if you were to write it down on paper and try to define it? I know it’s different for everybody but what does yours actually mean?

Adam: I think that’s really important to know that point that purpose is different for everyone. Everyone has their own definition. How I define purpose in the book understands what you want to give to the world. So if passion is kind of inward-looking, my passion is being healthier, my passion is writing, or my passion is meditating in the morning, my passion is smiling and dancing. My purpose is what I want to do for others. How I want to show up for others in the world and I kind of talk about this thing of alignment, I think purpose is alignment. I think purpose is aligning your unique gift with who you are with the impact you want to make in the world. So there need to be a synergy between you and what you’re giving to others; those need to link up and I think that’s really important. The purpose for work reflects who you are, what your interests are, what you’re good at and the impact you want to make in the world.

Zephan: And you’ve been making a big impact lately. I know there is a T-shirt that you actually have on there. We can’t really see it right now what it’s from but ‘Camp Grounded and a bunch of other things you just mentioned that you just came back from Hive. Talk a little bit about different options are out there because until I met you, I actually hadn’t heard about any of these and they’re all amazing opportunity so start with Camp Grounded and tell people what that’s about.

Adam: One of the things that I talk about in the book is that you can’t do this stuff alone and I don’t mean that just in terms of work and careers and jobs which you need other people to help you with as well in businesses, but I actually y mean in terms of life and living a purpose driven life. You need to surround yourself with communities of like-minded people and supportive people and I’ve been very lucky enough over the last couple of years to really find a lot of these aligned communities of people that are interested in social innovation and social entrepreneurship and social change in kind of intentional communities. Camp Grounded is actually a summer camp for adults so I really believe in the power of play and kind of returning to that inner child. All too often adults work a lot. We do adult things and we go to bars and watch TV but actually I went to camp as a kid and it was this really liberating place cause I could be like whatever I wanted. I could be just the way I was and be loved for that. Camp Grounded was started by an organization called Digital Detox in Oakland California and they do summer camp for adults, two weekends a year, you can check it out. You can’t talk about work, you can’t use digital technology you can only use your nickname. So it’s like the exact opposite of a conference and you get to arts and crafts, and capture the flag, and all of those things you use to do as a kid with other adults; age 18 all the way up to 70. It’s really powerful experience. I really recommend for people that are just out of college or just getting into their 20’s and trying to figure out where they fit. A program called starting block. The starting block institute for social innovation, meeting other young people that are creating social change, meeting other young people that are going after their dreams; that’s a great program. I also work part-time for a program called ‘Hive” The Hive Global Leaders Program. That’s for purpose driven leaders and Entrepreneurs that are a little farther along in their careers. Mostly age 25-40 that are working at large businesses and companies like Google, and Facebook and people or non-profits or social enterprises or the United Nations trying to create a better world and we do a three day event in San Francisco to bring people together meet people that are similar and also clarify their life purpose and accelerate their impact and get the tools that they need to move forward and create a more abundant and sustainable world for everyone.

Zephan: So there’s lots of really great options are there for people who you know now are stuck and want to try something different and just see where it takes them. It’s a really great opportunity no matter which one you chose. You get to go somewhere and make up a fake name, and not talk about work and not use electronics. I mean that sounds amazing. Obviously I would imagine you travel every now and then with some of these things. You’ve been to some pretty cool places. Do have anywhere that maybe you travelled in the last year; you plan to travel to this yr that you're looking to put on the itinerary?

Adam: Yea, I mean I’ve been able to do a lot of speaking about the book which is really exciting; about ‘The Quarter Life Breakthrough’. I got to go to London in November which is great. It’s the first time I've done a speaking event outside the United states and it was really cool because I didn’t know if the term ‘Quarter Life Crisis’ people are going to understand what that was because sometimes you think that it’s just an American thing and actually what I found was that the London audience was just as excited and passionate about what I was talking about as people in the States. So the point being that this is a global issue. Right? Everyone is looking for purpose everyone is looking for meaning in their life and at work and not just Millenials. So my audience is definitely Millenials as I’m 31 that’s kind of who I feel I can speak strongest to but I’ve spoken to audiences that are my Parents age or older and they’re also thinking about this so how do you bring more purpose into your life? So I would encourage anyone that’s in this space to realize that you’re not alone. They’re a lot of people I know that are on their 3rd, 4th job or even in a career that they are trying to make a change because they’ve grown, they’ve developed they want to make a difference, they want to do something else and that’s ok. I know plenty of 45 and 50 year olds that are also trying to make a change so I would encourage folks not to nudge themselves but actually empower themselves to make these changes and figure out what’s best for them and define purpose, whatever that looks like for them.


Zephan: I think towards the end of the book you kind of mentioned a little bit about how purpose is not necessarily something where it’s like we wake up one day, it hits us we live happily ever after right? There is this constant sort of cycle, so you know going to different events and things like this it really ignites that spark again, you get ideas running again and it kind of boosts you up for a few weeks. What’s your take on this journey as a whole, you know it’s not something that we just wake up one day and we’re happy and that’s it. It’s definitely a process and it’s a cycle and it continues over and over.

Adam:  Yea I think they’re very few people I’ve met that have one purpose and had I’ve had one purpose. I graduated college about 10 years ago I can name maybe two or three people that have been on one path. Most people have probably done fifteen different things or at least 5 or 6 and the point being there is constantly explore, constantly experiment. That doesn’t mean quit your job every sic months cause that’s not a very good strategy for making a living or very happy but the point is that we constantly evolve and grow. We’re constantly learning new things, We’re constantly meeting new people, we’re falling in love or watching a movie that changes or lives or travelling or being exposed to new things, or having new apprenticeships and jobs and experiences and if something ticks; if something goes off there’s a reason there. So if all of a sudden I were to get really excited about Design Innovation or Storytelling, that’s not a reason to say ‘whoa, whoa I got to stay focused here on writing, just writing”. No. maybe I want to do a class, maybe I want to write a book about Design innovation, maybe I could combine those things and grow. I think it’s all about growth, it’s all about this passionate curiosity and being curious about things that ignite you and excite you and figuring about a way to incorporate that into your work. I find that the people that seem to me most fulfilled that are around me are constantly growing, are constantly evading. You have to stay focused. To have to kind of know where you’re at, you can take on everything cause then you’d just get distracted but you also have to experiment and innovate and just look at the job market now. When I was in college Facebook was not even around. I think it started to come up maybe senior year of college and I’m old. I mean I’m a little old but I’m not that old, please and think about what’s changed in the last ten years. Social Media; in terms of technology, in terms of the jobs, the job market. All these positions that didn’t exist when I was in college; ten years ago. What’s the job market gonna look like in ten years so we’re gonna constantly have to adapt, we’re gonna constantly have to learn new technologies, learn new things, learn new ways of working with people. So I really encourage people to be nimble, to be flexible, to experiment, to understand the relationships between different disciplines and its ok to try to find these synergies. It’s ok to kind of have your foot in 2 different areas, providing your getting your skills; that’s really important. Purpose is a journey, it’s about growth, it’s about exploration and I think that’s really important.

Zephan:        And it’s process of making choices, some of them good, some of them bad. Speaking of choices what would you say in the past few years, since leaving that job and everything that you’ve done since then what do you think is the best decision that you’ve made? What do you thinks was; not necessarily a mistake but not your favorite decision that you’ve made that maybe didn’t go the way that you wanted it to.

Adam:         It’s a great question. I think the best decision I made was committing to finishing the book and kind of seeing that through cause there were couple times that there were couple times where I was like; “oh this is too much, ill just do a couple blog post or ill just do a couple websites or something but really seeing that through and committing to something that took a year has opened up a lot of doors and I’m just going. I’m not speaking as the world’s foremost expert on this. I’m just learning but I feel like it’s open doors for speaking and opened doors for a lot of opportunities to really talk about these ideas and help people think about this and that book has really served as a calling card for me, so making that decision was really, really important.

The decision that let’s say didn’t go so well – I think for me the biggest challenge is focus. I sometimes say yes to a lot of different side projects which I was just taking about how it’s ok to take on different a thing; that’s the balance. That’s the balance that I think that I’m still working on. You have to be willing to really focus, you have to be willing to get good at something and know what your priority is so I think for a lot of this last year that’s been my challenge; its what’s my priority and that’s my goal for 2015 is to say ok, I have these things going on what is the absolute top priority?

Zephan: Right, yea

Adam:   For me right now it’s getting a book deal for my second book. That’s my absolute top priority. So if I ever am like “should I take this call or this call or this meeting or this meeting or go to this thing or this thing. It’s like that. If it’s not related that comes first and then being able to fill in after that and I think that’s been my mistake. Up till now is having trouble with the discipline to priorities and the discipline to focus. There’s a lot of shinny objects, there’s a lot of exciting things but I find that the people that are truly successful really have a clear focus. They might have number 2 number 3 and number 4 but number 1 is number one. That’s the most important thing that they are working on everything follows that. Until this year, I don’t think I’ve had that clear for myself and I’m really excited about that

Zephan:            So setting goals, setting priorities, probably in all access of life but still keeping in my ‘number 1’, remembering what your most important one is. A lot of people in business talk about how if it’s not income generating then why are you working on it and it’s kind of similar but we just want to keep in mind that if it’s not getting as closer to where we want to be then it’s probably not the most important thing to be doing at the current time. With that said what would you say, having made some mistakes, having made some amazing decisions just to round this all up; knowing what you know now what would you tell you’re your younger self?

Adam:             I would tell my younger self that money doesn’t lead to happiness. I was making good money and it wasn’t right and a lot of the last couple of years I’ve made far less money but I’m in the arena of things I really care about and I’m around people I care about and the potentials now for making income are there because I haven’t put money first. If that make sense and I think it’s really important because so many young people; whether it’s from their parents or college or the pressures of society we think that we’re being graded on this kind of scale who’s making the most money, or who has the coolest job at the biggest company or the coolest title. It’s not about that. I know a lot of people that work at awesome companies; whether it’s apeoplee or Google or Facebook or the peace corps or The Whitehouse and they’re not happy and then I know a lot of Entrepreneurs that aren’t happy.

So it’s really about not caring about what others think and figuring what you want and until you start to do that it’s really difficult to find meaning in fifth element. So that’s what I would tell my younger self which is ‘Don’t worry about the noise. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. It’s inspiring, you should read their blog post, you should check out their photos and get inspired but don’t worry about that. Focus on asking yourself the right questions. ‘Who are you?’ ‘What are you about?’ ‘What do you care about?’ ‘What issues fire you up? Who do you want to be around? What impact do you want to make in the world as yourself those questions. What’s your purpose? Those are gonna lead to the answers not what your friend’s doing, not what your parents did, not what this person that’s on the cover of fast company did, not what the Lawyer, the business person is doing. That’s all great, those people are great. What do you care about?

Zephan: And one of the best ways to get there I can personally say for me has been checking out your book so “The Quarter-Life Breakthrough” is an awesome book. I highly recommend that everyone check that out. If you could real quick, tell everybody how they can find this and how they can get in touch with you.

Adam:             Sure, you can get it on amazon.com, “The Quarter Life Breakthrough”, you can also check out thequarterlifebreakthrough.com sign up for my mailing list get some free resources. You can email me there, smiley@thequarterlifebreakthrough.com, hit me up on twitter, at #whatsupsmiley and thank you all so much. Thank you for having me.

Zephan:         Real quick before I forget cause we didn’t even say that at the beginning. Tell everyone why your nickname is ‘Smiley’ cause we keep calling you that so I need everybody to know.

Adam:    Yes, my real name is Adam, I go by smiley, it’s a nickname I’ve actually had for more than 15  years. It’s a nickname from high school. I smile a lot I ran cross country in high school and my cross-country coach named me Smiley, the first week of school just cause I was smiling when were suppose to be puking and running up the hills but it’s a good nickname and I think more people in this world should smile.

Zephan: Awesome. Well thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to be here with us. Everybody check out “The Quarter-Life Breakthrough”. Look it up online and on Amazon and I can’t wait to see you guys in our next episode of The Year of Purpose Podcast. Smiley, Thank you so much for being here today

Adam: Thank You.

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